TCS Daily

TCS COP 10 Coverage: Dinosaur Tales

By Duane D. Freese - December 13, 2004 12:00 AM

BUENOS AIRES -- Argentina is a great place for a confab on catastrophic climate change, only Buenos Aires isn't the city for it.

The delegates to this tenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change -- COP 10 -- should move south a little bit -- to Trelew.

There they can look upon the bones of the monsters that once roamed, such as the Argentinosaurus, more than 65 million years ago. Then they can take a quick trip to Puerto Madryn on the coast and commune with penquins and walruses.

If they did so, they might reflect that while concern about climate change is warranted, certain realities make panic about man's footprint in the equation foolish -- Mother Nature has and will change climate dramatically all on her own; man's role remains pretty minor; the best advice for a species to survive it to learn to adapt. Man has throughout his life on Earth -- the dinosaurs did not.

Instead of reason, though, the parties at this conference are all about grabbing headlines and attention by declaiming the catastrophic warming man is causing. For example, the delegate for Tanzania, summing up the position of delegates from least developed countries, claimed last week at the start of COP 10, "For our countries, climate change is more catastrophic than terrorism."

But then they trumpet actions that would do next to nothing about climate -- but a lot of negative things to the economy -- if their nightmare scenarios had any real chance of being true.

Developing countries are exempt from provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty that will go into effect on Feb. 16. Most industrial nations lead by Europeans (The United States, Australia and China still aren't on board), have promised to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases an average of 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Those promises are mostly empty -- most of the European countries are nowhere near meeting their emission targets.

Then, in 2012, though, the world is supposed to start to look at the emissions of the 77 developing countries, including the least developed 48, with an eye toward getting them to join the emissions cutbacks. But while there is a lot of talk about that, there is not much being done for them to get with the plan.

Raúl Estrada, director of environmental affairs in Argentina's Foreign Ministry and the head of the Argentine delegation at COP 10, who presided over the committee that drafted the original protocol back in 1997, noted that projects for the so-called Clean Development Mechanism for developing countries don't do much to promote either renewable sources (non-fossil fuel) nor transfer much clean technology to them.

"This was not what we had in mind," he said.

The dirty little secret is that developing countries look on global warming not as a threat but as an opportunity -- to get industrial firms to off-shore greenhouse gas emitting enterprises in their home countries.

Even a Kyoto proponent, Juan Carlos Villalonga, an energy specialist from the Argentine chapter of the environmental watchdog Greenpeace, noted that most of the countries in the developing world mostly want to get money for projects, but have little interest in curbing their own emissions.

His answer: close the loopholes that a) make the world awash with countries that want to sell credits to the developing world, and b) permit developed nations to cutback on their emissions by offshoring industry.

He's right. With the numerous loopholes Kyoto offers no real emissions reductions. Instead, it's a giant forced foreign aid mechanism. Russia, recognizing that, has jumped to the head of the line. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the crumbling of Russian industry a failed communist government could no longer prop up, resulted in emission reductions that it can place on the emissions trading market, a key mechanism to bring industrial countries on board.

That creates a cheap market for those countries to buy credits. Without them, countries such as Canada, which has spent $4 billion to meet its commitment with no effect, would have no hope to ever satisfy the treaty's requirements without running their economy into the ground.

So, Russia will get money for non-industrial development. Other developing nations will try to do the same.

In that light, the Tanzanian representative is correct, in a way. Climate change is a catastrophe for developing countries, because Kyoto will encourage them to act in irrationally non-economic ways that will do nothing to advance the welfare, and the adaptability, of their economies to eventual climate change, whatever the source.

Meanwhile, if you took away the loopholes as the Argentine Greenpeace official would like, the whole Kyoto patchwork would shred like the unwoven cloth -- called shoddy -- that Union soldiers wore at the start of the Civil War. No buyers or sellers of credits, and no supporters for the treaty. That is one reason that President George W. Bush was on target when he called the treaty fatally flawed. His plan -- bilateral accords that would encourage developing countries to use more efficient technology as they grow -- makes more sense.

But what sense can anyone make in a meeting where an advocate for women would claim that women face a more dire fate from climate change than men. Why? Well according to the program manager for Reducing Vulnerability to Climate Change, Angie Daze, "Often women don't know how to swim, so in a flood situation, that can lead to a higher instance of death or injury."

Human beings could learn to wear furs in icy climes that would have killed dinosaurs. Swimming is not such a big problem -- you first learn to float, and then to kick. Go to Trelew, and watch the walruses and penquins.


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